John Romero, director of the Water Resource Allocation Program of the State Engineer’s Office, said his office has been fielding up to 50 calls a day from people hoping to participate in New Mexico’s upcoming legal market for recreational cannabis.
These potential producers know they need to show they have secured a reliable supply of water — or even obtain water rights — to apply for a grower’s license. They want staffers in Romero’s agency, the Water Resource Allocation Program, to tell them how it works.
There are a lot of misconceptions, said Romero, the program’s director. “People think, ‘I have a well on my property,’ or ‘There’s a stream or acequia or ditch that goes by my property.’
“That’s good,” he said, “but you may not have the water rights.”
Romero has some advice for people preparing to grow cannabis in the state and a few words of caution: Obtaining water-related permits is never a quick or easy process.
- Producers who plan to purchase or rent a facility connected to a commercial or municipal water system can simply connect to the system as a commercial customer, Romero said. For instance, those operating in the city of Albuquerque can hook up to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority, which “has all the water rights for commercial, agriculture and domestic” use he said. A grower just has to show they are a paying customer.
- Rural growers face more challenges. And some already have discovered a domestic well on their property is not an adequate source of water for a commercial operation. Romero said cannabis producers must have agricultural or commercial well rights. Those who don’t have the rights must acquire them from someone who does. An owner who agrees to sell or lease the water rights must transfer them to your well through a permit from the State Engineer’s Office.
- Don’t assume you have water rights
- just because you own property with an acequia, stream or other waterway running through it. Check with the State Engineer’s Office to find out who owns the rights to the flows.
- If someone offers to sell you water rights from an acequia system, check to see if the acequia commission has bylaws that prohibit or limit such transfers. “Most acequia commissions do have bylaws,” Romero said. “And they often have the right to refuse transfer.”
- Once you have someone lined up to transfer their water rights to you, get ready to get in line. According to Romero, his agency already has a backlog of over 500 water-related permit applications waiting for approval, with an average wait time of eight to 10 months. If someone contests a water rights transfer, the process could take two years to resolve in the court system, he said.